Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Love a Parade!

This morning dawned bright, clear, sunny and crisp - the perfect sort of morning for a parade!  The Macys' Celebrate the Season Parade passed through downtown Pittsburgh this morning.  The parade route took them past the downtown Macys location (the converted flagship store of the Kaufmann's chain, purchased by federated in the 1990's) which is just a few blocks from my hotel.  I joined the crowd along 5th Avenue to enjoy the spectacle.

The view from 5th Avenue and Grant Street while I waited for the parade - that's the Omni William Penn (where I'm staying this week) in the background.

All the staples of a good parade were represented: marching bands, local celebrities, horses, beauty queens,  police and firemen, balloons, clowns and shriners in tiny cars.  I enjoyed it immensely.  As it was a holiday parade, there was plenty of Christmas cheer on display and in the air.  The marching bands all featured Christmas tunes (one even played You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch!) and, of course, Santa brought up the rear of the parade on an elaborate float.

What follows are some of my photographic highlights:

A band of firefighters playing the bagpipes lead the way - you could hear the parade coming long before you could see it!

Of course, the Mayor of Pittsburgh was close behind

Pittsburgh's metaphorical mayor came along shortly: Steely McBeam (The Steelers' mascot)
There was plenty of Steelers' black and gold to come:

Even dogs got in on the act!

These horses got a Steelers pedicure

There were many local celebrities in the parade:

Mr. McFeely (David Newell) is from Pittsburgh!  (In fact, David taught middle school english at a public school in Pittsburgh.  Fred Rogers was from nearby Latrobe, PA.)

The pirogies from "The Great Pittsburgh Pirogi Race" at PNC Park were all on hand.  (This is Sauerkraut Saul.)

As the parade was sponsored by Macys, there were giant balloons:


And plenty of corporate sponsorship:

Wendy looks like she's seen better days...

Everyone was getting into the holiday spirit, especially the marching bands:

This baton core went all out!

These poor girls had embarrassing enough costumes already: their boots feature taps and big, black pom-poms to go with their marabou trimmed skirts.  The addition of reindeer antlers only furthered the humiliation...

It is difficult enough to look bad-ass (as drum-line kids are wont to do) while wearing a santa cap, but even harder when your assigned instrument is the slap-stick.  This kid was one of two different slap-stick players in the parade; two different band directors thought that Sleigh Ride would be a good marching tune.

Of course, the Jolly Old Elf himself brought the parade to a close:

I truly do love a parade.  This one even got me into the holiday spirit.  I've been fighting off said holiday spirit in the belief that the day after Halloween is much too early to start hearing Christmas music and drinking eggnog lattes (Thanksgiving is a great holiday all its own and shouldn't be skipped over); but now that Thanksgiving has passed, I'm ready for some Sleigh Ride - even if it's played by a high school marching band!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Boston (Again)

I took the, earlier, crew flight to Boston and dashed to the cab stand at Logan airport.  I dropped my bags at the Holiday Inn, jumped on the T and was having lunch with some of my best friends just about an hour after my plane touched down in Beantown.  The arrival in every new city should be as much fun as a meal at Jacob Wirth with Shannon, Spencer, Erin & Cody!  Shannon, of course, is a student at Emerson University and the others were in town to celebrate Shannon's 21st birthday with her.  Shannon's birthday was Tuesday, so we took her out for dinner and then went bowling on Monday night to countdown the hours until she was of legal drinking age.  At midnight, we celebrated with a round of shots.

Shannon takes aim at a birthday strike

Shannon's legal!  A round of celebratory kamikazes

Monday night was just the start of the week's celebrations.  I went out every night in Boston.  Having good friends around in one of my favorite cities made for a really great week. 

I detailed my affection for the Colonial Theatre in a previous post, but it bears repeating.  The building is beautiful and the crew is one of the best in the business.  The whole experience at the Colonial was great.  I can't think of a better place to celebrate my 700th performance of Spamalot. In fact, the same night that I marked my personal milestone, we welcomed Spamlot's director, Mike Nichols.  Mike made the trip up to see the show and give notes to the assembled company for the first time since Philadelphia  in the spring of last year.  I think it was great for the company to hear from one of the show's original creators.  In general, he seemed pleased with the performance.  Most of his notes were about shaking off entrenched habits, keeping things fresh and remembering that the words of the Pythons are funny even without the little filigrees and additions of our individual performers. 

We welcomed another new company member in Boston.  Alexa Glover joined us and started rehearsal to replace Jen Rias.  Alexa rehearsed at the Jeanette Neil Studios (coincidentally, the same studio where we rehearsed Jen Rias in the first place!) near the Boston Garden.  Spamalot has rehearsed at the Jeanette Neil Studio in each of its three engagements in Boston - it's become almost as much of a second home as the Colonial!

The view from the studio window

For reasons that are unclear to me, the studio has a series of squirrel figurines in one of their closets - we used one of them to mark center the day I was in rehearsal

Sheila Marie arrived in Boston on Thursday night for a weekend long visit.  Her visits certainly brighten up the tour for me, but they are also anticipated with affection by some other members of the company.  On Friday night, a bunch of us crossed Tremont Street to Intermission Tavern for some socializing.  Intermission is the unofficial gathering place of the crew in Boston as it is owned by the Colonial's House Prop Man, Mike.  Mike's got one of the best gigs in showbiz:  he's got an office just off-stage left at the Colonial and another at the end of the bar across the street from the stage door!

Mike holds court at Intermission Tavern

Saturday night, we took Shannon to the Oak Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel for one last round of celebratory birthday drinks.  The Oak Bar is a very nice hotel bar.  There was a four piece jazz combo playing in front of the windows overlooking Copley Square.  I've really come to like fancy hotel bars - they feel so civilized!  We had an absolutely marvelous evening, until it was time to leave.  The public transit system in Boston closes around midnight, meaning that everyone is trying to get a cab to take them home when the bars start to close.  It was anarchy in the streets!  It took us almost 40 minutes to get a cab (after several were poached by people running up the street) and then people were literally jumping out into the street trying to get our cab to stop for them.  I've never seen anything like that before...

Shannon and SME at the Oak Bar

As I find myself writing on this blog so often: Sunday came too quickly.  I arrived at the Colonial to find that the crew had unloaded many of the empty dollies, boxes and hampers into Allen's Alley for the load-out to follow the second show.  Sheila Marie bought me some breakfast and I had to say good-bye to her in the Dunkin' Donuts (we'll see each other quite soon, Spamalot has another lay-off coming up in two weeks).  I shared the between-shows-meal with Shannon and Spencer before I had to say good-bye to them as well.   After the show, there was the usual packing up and loading-out.  It was especially hard to leave the Colonial; after all the work of cramming us in there, it's a shame we couldn't stay longer.

The alley was full of all manner of things Spamalot - I secretly enjoy when we have this sort of box call, who (but our crew) can tell what's Spamalot and what's garbage piled next to the dumpster?

A few extra photos before I wrap up this entry:

The traditional VFMHRW - I stayed in Somerville (just across the Charles from Boston).  While the neighborhood was no great shakes, I enjoyed riding the T to work every day.  The view was cool (past the Bunker Hill Monument) and a few minutes of time to listen to the IPod and just zone out was refreshing.

TVFMHRW (Alternate Take)

Shannon and Spencer made cookies!  The sugar cookies were intricately frosted in all manner of designs.  Shannon sent me back to the Holiday Inn with a travel bag of, much appreciated, goodies.

My desk as it appeared on Saturday.  Scott bought the flag for me in Norfolk; a sports fan store was going out of business and he picked up all manner of Spartan gear for me!  I didn't get to see the football game (and I might be glad about that, the way it turned out), but I cheered the Spartans on in my heart.  I'm excited that they've earned themselves a bowl berth, nonetheless.

From Boston, it was on to Pittsburgh for the Thanksgiving week!


Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Colonial Theatre, Boston

The Colonial is an absolutely beautiful theatre.  The backstage space is cramped and loading-in is a pain in the neck, but I've really enjoyed coming to work everyday here.  It feels like coming to work at a Broadway theatre.  The Colonial is also the Spamalot tour's birthplace.  The tour teched, previewed and opened here two and half year's ago.  The crew is top notch and this is third time many of them have worked the show (the original run at the colonial, two weeks at the Opera House in January and now our third coming).

The Colonial opened its doors in December of 1900.  The theatre is actually part of a larger office building on Boylston Street facing Boston Common.  The premier performance was Ben Hur and featured a cast of 350 and even 8 horses that simulated a chariot race at full gallop on stage.  Since then, it's been one of the preferred out-of-town try-out houses for shows on their way to Broadway.  In fact, it was at the Colonial that a musical entitled Away We Go! replaced the title number and was renamed Oklahoma! on its way to a Broadway bow in 1943.  The theatre's marquee was badly damaged when a delivery truck crashed into the overhang (the marquee is now almost flush with the building), but otherwise the theatre appears much as it did when Anything Goes, Porgy and Bess and Follies previewed here.

The Colonial's front door & truncated marquee

The interior of the theatre is magnificent.  Hidden behind the rather unassuming facade is a jewel box.  The interior designs are by H.B. Pennell and were clearly created to dazzle theatre goers.

The lobby is designed to be reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

The auditorium features gilt plaster work and giant marble columns

Gilt cherubs are everywhere

The ceiling features several murals - this one is just above the proscenium 

The stage house is just large enough to contain Spamalot.  We filled all the available space and had to be creative with the quick change areas (the girls on stage left are actually using a star dressing room complete with a large white sofa that the hands couldn't find a way to get out of the room!).  The Colonial is also one of the few remaining hemp houses on the road.  (Instead of a more modern system with permanent arbors to hold the counterweights for the flying pieces, a hemp house uses sandbags lashed on to the hemp ropes that support and operate the flying pieces.)  The antiquated fly system is perfectly functional, but made our load-in even more challenging.  The Colonial also doesn't have a traditional loading dock: 1 truck at a time can back up Allen's Alley to the loading door, everything on that truck has to be ramped down to the ground, pushed to a small elevator and then brought up to the stage.  Just getting all the pieces into the Colonial took a long time.

Stage hands move road boxes to the loading door - the elevator is coming down to meet them at street level

One truck at a time could back down the alley to the stage door - the alley empties onto busy Tremont Street, necessitating a police man to direct traffic

The Colonial's support spaces, however, are charming.  While there's not lots of room, the whole place is very homey feeling.  There's lots of dark wood everywhere, even wainscoting on the walls.  The building has obviously been well cared for.

I love the dressing rooms on the third floor - they're only big enough for one or two people, but they feel so inviting 

The Stage Managers' office is in the former Smoking Lounge

The building is full of old fashioned, hand-painted signage - I love this stuff

Of course, there are a few things about the Colonial that I'd like to see changed....

The Colonial has been a great place to come to work all week.  After all the work the crew did cramming us into this beautiful theatre, it's truly a shame that we're only staying for a week.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Norfolk, VA

The week in Norfolk was a quiet one; it was mainly taken up with business at the theatre. 

The week began, rather inauspiciously, with a long travel day.  As you might imagine, air travel from Ottawa to Norfolk is a roundabout affair.  Our first flight took us from Ottawa to Philadelphia where we had a four hour lay-over before the flight to Norfolk.  There were the usual indignities of air travel before the very full flights and in both cases the luggage compartment of the planes was over-full, resulting in a plea from the cabin staff to help put luggage from below under our seats to ensure that everything arrived with us.  The arrival into Norfolk was dramatic, in a good way.  We landed with the setting sun reflecting off the Chesapeake Bay and highlighting the many ships at dock in the Norfolk Naval Station.

We disembarked and headed for the baggage carousel.  As the Spamily started to drift away, a few of us were left hopefully looking at the empty belt.  It seems that even with our help in stowing extra luggage in the passenger compartment, the crew wasn't able to jam all our luggage onto the planes and some was left behind.  The airline delivered all the "delayed" luggage in the early morning hours of Tuesday.  While nothing was missing from my bag, Chris and Lynn had several items stolen from their "delayed" bag.  While I understand that there are human limits on what the airlines are capable of and that mistakes happen, it does seem to me that if the airlines are going to charge fees specifically for the carrying of checked bags ($140 in my case last Monday), their service in regards to that luggage should be commensurate.

The carousel goes round and round, but no more luggage was to arrive

The frustration of the travel was soothed, somewhat, by my arrival at the Candlewood.  I've spoken many times of my affection for this chain of hotels, and they worked their pleasant magic again last week.  There's nothing fancy about the chain, but they deliver exactly what I expect every time and I was happy to find it waiting for me at the end of a long day.  As the week turned rainy and grey, I was more and more inclined to stay in my cozy room.


Spamalot played Chrysler Hall for the week in Norfolk.  The building opened in 1972 and is run by the city of Norfolk.  It sits on a plaza with Norfolk SCOPE Arena.  The arena (in addition to having the world's largest concrete dome at a diameter of 440') is also home to a convention center in it's lower levels.  The two venues share a parking garage under the plaza and were a part of the city's early downtown revitalization project.  As tends to be the case with the municipal venues we play, Chrysler Hall was pretty spartan.  The dressing rooms were concrete block and a little shabby.  

Chrysler Hall as seen from the plaza

Team Stage Management at work in our cramped dressing room turned office

The municipal ownership of the building did provide the basis for one of my favorite exchanges of the tour, thus far.  We were starting a put-in rehearsal for Steven Wenslawski on Tuesday afternoon when the custodian arrived to clean the auditorium.  He fired up a gas powered leaf blower and started blowing the confetti around.  Of course, the sound of a lawnmower engine running during rehearsal is a little distracting, so I approached him and the following conversation ensued:

Me: "Hi!  I'm sorry but we're rehearsing onstage until around 5.  Is there any chance you could come back afterwards to finish cleaning the auditorium?"
Him: "No, I'm only on 'til 4:30.  I was trying to be quiet.  The other machine we have is even louder."
Me: "Hmmmm...  OK, well let me go talk to my boss and see if we can't find a compromise."
Him: "Hang on, I have an idea.  (Now speaking into a radio) "Earl, they're having a rehearsal on stage and I can't run the machine.  Any chance you could send over some of the inmates with brooms?"
Earl: "Sure.  They'll be there in a minute."

Sure enough, a couple of minutes later a Sheriff's deputy arrives to check out the scene in the auditorium.  He's soon joined by 3 prisoners in orange jump suits who sweep up the confetti.  Magical.

The auditorium of Chrysler Hall featured this interesting triangle pattern on the ceiling.  The cross-pieces did make hanging and focussing lights a challenge...

Tuesday was taken up with load-in and opening night.  Wednesday afternoon we put-in Steven.  Thursday we had an understudy rehearsal.  During the day on Thursday, it rained pretty hard.  No one had any trouble getting to rehearsal, but by show call the rain had begun to cause problems.  Portions of Interstate 264 flooded and were made impassable.  Several crew members and a fair number of cast members were caught up in the ensuing traffic jam.  By half-hour, it was clear we had a problem.  At the fifteen minute call, we were still missing more men than we had swings to cover for them!  Brad Bradley (Patsy) was on vacation all week with Darryl scheduled to perform in his place putting Nigel on in Darryl's role as Sir Bors.  Chris Sutton (Historian/Prince Herbert) was caught in the traffic jam so Ken elected to have Matt Allen cover for Chris, putting Graham (our second and final male swing) on as The Nun.  Erik Hayden was also caught in the traffic meaning that we would have to combine some tracks to cover his role as Sir Not Appearing.  

The lobby board as it appeared at ten minutes to curtain.  I've never filled it all the way up before!

While I was adjusting the lobby board, Erik arrived and we were able to get him ready by showtime, meaning we had all the tracks covered.  Of course, the traffic jam also meant that some audience members had trouble reaching us as well, so the house was happy to delay the curtain a bit.  The last minute substitutions meant that Ken had to make an announcement of the cast changes.  After he went through the long list of changes, he apologized for the delay, announced that we would start shortly and promised "laughs will ensue!"  Meanwhile, he walked the halls singing: "It's fun Thursday, wacky, upside down Thursday..."  We eventually got the show started around 8:15.

With so much of the week taken up with rehearsal, most of my view of Norfolk looked like this.  Gurr & Erik are rehearsing the "mud mound scene" ("If I said that some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!") as part of  Thursday's understudy run.

By Friday, I was ready to get out and see some of the Hampton Roads region.  I started with a breakfast near the eponymous beach of Virginia Beach.  In my quest for a good breakfast spot in the area, I stumbled up Mr. Breakfast's Restaurant Reviews.  This is somewhat akin to my discovery of roadfood - how did I find things without these internet resources?!?!  I invited Gurr and Suzanne to join me at the Pocahontas Pancake and Waffle House.  I don't know who thought of using the legendary Native American to sell breakfast foods, but the good people at this breakfast dive play it for all it's worth.  There are murals depicting Pocahontas with the people of Jamestown surrounding the dining room.  A teepee has been constructed over the rear entrance to the restaurant and a wooden Indian stands in the middle of the dining room.  Food network featured the restaurant in 2002 and their breakfast stood up to the endorsement.

Gurr snapped this photo of me after breakfast w/ his IPhone

In the afternoon, I set out to learn more about the area's maritime history at Nauticus, a maritime themed science museum on Norfolk's waterfront.  The area is home to the world's largest naval base (Naval Station Norfolk occupies 4 miles of waterfront) and many smaller bases as well.  The area is home to one of the world's largest natural harbors (the so-called "Hampton Roads" sits at the confluence of the James River, Elizabeth River and the Chesapeake Bay) and is far enough south to be ice free all year long, so it's importance to shipping has long been apparent.  During the civil war, the waters around Norfolk were hotly contested and it was here that the first ironclad ships (the Merrimack and the Monitor) did battle.  With the 1907 Jamestown exposition, the area's involvement as a major naval base began to take shape.  The exposition grounds were later turned into Naval Station Norfolk and it was from here that the "Great White Fleet" got underway for their world tour.  

Nauticus houses all kinds of exhibits on the Jamestown Exposition, the Chesapeake Bay, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.  It is also home to the USS Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin is one of the first of the first Iowa Class battleships.  She was launched in 1943 and served in WWII, Korea and the first Gulf War.  The ship earned 6 battle stars and, even now, is held in reserve by the Navy.  She is outfitted with 5 16" guns that fire projectiles weighing as much as a Volkswagen Beetle more than 25 miles.  The ship positively bristles with weapons - for the Gulf War she was retrofitted with Tomahawk missiles - embodying the name "battleship".  Sitting in the Norfolk harbor, the Wisconsin is a powerful reminder both of the areas rich naval tradition and of those who served.
The Iowa Class of battleships all featured this distinctive, bulbous prow

The Wisconsin's 6 forward 16" guns - when the guns are fired, the force of the explosion pushes the 45,000 ton Wisconsin noticeably in the other direction. 
(The airplane is one of the Navy's Blue Angels mounted to the roof of the Nauticus Museum.)

Between shows on Saturday, several of us went out in search of some Roadfood.  The only listing in Norfolk is for Doumar's Cones and Barbeque.  The owner's of Doumar's claim that Abe Doumar invented and sold the first ice cream cones at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.  Several other people also claim to have invented the ice cream cone at that same moment at the World's Fair, but the claim seemed like as good a reason as any to head out for barbeque and ice cream!  The restaurant is a classic drive in complete with car hops and trays that mount to a car's window.  It also features a small interior diner where we ate our chopped barbeque sandwiches  safely out of the rain.  The place did a brisk business in burgers, fries and soda fountain classics (my lime-aid was delicious).  After dinner we all partook of the famous cones and pronounced them tasty.

The world's first ice cream cone machine
After his return to Coney Island from the World's Fair, Abe Doumas invented this machine to speed the creation of his cones - they still use it today.

Karl enjoys his cone

Before long, it was time to say goodbye to Norfolk.  I was booked on the early flight to Boston on Monday morning, anxious to head north and visit one of my favorite cities and some of my favorite folks (my wife and several of my friends are converging on Beantown to celebrate Shannon's birthday).  I'll leave you with a couple of my favorite snaps from the week:

A large floral arrangement graced the lobby of Chrysler Hall.  In honor of Spamalot the florist included some special touches...

Every time I see the Giant Wooden Rabbit peeking out from behind the masking drapes, it makes me smile.  What could better embody the absurd side of the humor of the Pythons than this oversized prop?